The British government has published a paper stating there should be no border posts or immigration checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit. Disruption of trade should also be kept to a bare minimum. Perhaps Britain has something to learn from the Norway – Sweden border?
Swedish officials in EU have warned the British government of long border queues, diesel laundering and smuggled goods when being dragged into the Brexit debate. Norway has the closest possible trading relationship with EU without actually being a part of the bloc. There were 229,286 checks on crossing vehicles in 2016.
Sharing a border of 1,640 km, with close to 80 crossings between Norway and Sweden demonstrates the challenges Northern Ireland and Ireland may face in the future. U. K.’s vision of a frictionless Northern Irish border will be difficult to achieve. One EU politician even described it as ‘fantasy’.
Northern Ireland exported more than €3 billion worth of goods to Ireland in 2016 and many businesses have complex supply chains.
Border force officials on both sides of the Sweden-Norway border demonstrate their concerns when surveying battered cars and vans driven by smugglers of alcohol, cigarettes and drugs, caught by the customs. Norway has chosen to impose high tariffs in such goods.
However, with Norwegian-Swedish trade links worth €18.6 billion annually, there is a huge economic and political interest in keeping trade and traffic flowing between the two countries.
Within the EU, citizens can load up as much alcohol as their vehicles can safely carry and legally drive it over internal borders, as long as they can credibly claim it is for private consumption. Not so in Norway. Even if Norwegians and Swedes have enjoyed open-border travel since before the EU came into existence, Norway, not an EU member, has restrictions on import of cigarettes and alcohol.
Streamlined border checks are now possible through technological advances. So called automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) scanners are used in both stationary form and on Norwegian police vehicles. However, sometimes at peak-times there may be queues of a couple of hours at on-site border checks even with technical equipment.
Norwegian customs seized 47,000 liters of spirits and 322,000 liters of beer in the first half of 2017.
The two Scandinavian neighbors tightened travel document checks after the large inflow of migrants into Europe in 2015. Now, after the number of arrivals subsided, passport checks are rare.
While Sweden joined EU in 1995, Norway chose not to join after a referendum in 1994. Doing so would cost the country control over its productive fishing grounds, was one of the reasons. Sweden and Norway were united under one head of state until 1905.
There are reasons to believe that the EU’s outer border running between neighbors with close ties will soon be echoed on the island of Ireland, where U.K.-governed Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland meet.
However, Britain has said it does not favor electronic surveillance on its border with Ireland. But questions are now being asked about what form the border should take, and what the various options would mean for business, political security and smuggling. Ireland is keen to avoid any hard border with Northern Ireland.
Despite flattering remarks from Belfast, officials in Sweden and Norway are wary about being dragged into the Brexit debate, especially when the U. K. last August presented a paper on the issue stating it wanted not only to avoid border checks, but also to rule out any border infrastructure at all — for fear it would become a target for dissident republicans.
One lesson from Norway is, however, that even with the Scandinavian country’s close ties to the bloc, border checks are necessary.
Can Brexit Britain Learn Something From the Sweden – Norway Border? written by Tor Kjolberg